Mourning a Tree and Denouncing a System

From the microcosm of personal grief, to Western civilization’s atrocities throughout the ages.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

Texto em Português (BR) aqui

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Photo by Christiaan Braga.

After 15 years of living abroad, I came back to my childhood home to find the front-yard treeless. The house was not big; one-story, 2 bedrooms, and a 30 by 15 meter yard; in Itaipú, Niterói. The yard had lots of trees: mango, java plum, hog plum, acerola, banana, and all sorts of miscellaneous bushes. Had. First, the bushes went away to make way for pavement. Then, an extra bedroom replaced the banana and the acerola trees. Now, one mango tree stands alone caged by concrete. I cried. I didn’t cry because I’m attached to things in general. After living in 3 different continents and I-don’t-know-how-many cities, I’m very used to leaving things I care about behind- houses, records, pets, books, routines, loved ones, familiar languages, cultures, etc. So, if something being gone truly breaks my heart, it’s because it runs deep.

The mango, java plum, and hog plum trees were massive; imagine these 40 year old trees (at least) forming a triangle and interlacing branches like comrades in peaceful but epic resistance. We used to put 2 hammocks between the 3 trunks, and lay all day talking and drinking mango juice. As a kid I thought I was the most radical athlete when I climbed on the thick branches to pick the mangoes before they fell on the floor (and bruised or cracked open). That was until I found one already cracked open while still hanging, with juice dripping down and a tiny spider with giant colorful legs sucking on it. It was scary, and confusing. How could a spider slice through the thick skin of a mango? I mean, the tear was bigger than the spider itself. It must have been the Chupacabra. Every night since, I’d see the swift black shadows of fruit bats and I was convinced it was the alien goat-blood sucking monster in the news. Of course, it was the 90’s; we had the X-files, and sensationalist Brazilian “news” shows with reenactments of real people’s accounts (you can probably tell I kind of still want to believe). When I asked the new tenants why they cut down all those trees, they said it was because they were afraid of the bats (I was also scared- as a child; that doesn’t mean- chop it down).

If people can relate to my sorrow in the microcosm of a front-yard, then I hope they can imagine this sorrow in the context of the most bio-diverse country in the world, as well as the country with the highest rate of deforestation. What leads people to want to cut down trees? Literal slash-and-burn techniques used to make cattle ranches, with the help of soy-bean farms, were responsible for the obliteration of 13% of the largest rain forest in the world, just like that, up in smoke. All of that for beef? It has got to make you wanna cry, or curse, or both.

There is no need to go to the Amazon to see this kind of senseless destruction happening. The Flamengo park in Rio de Janeiro is a good example of the brutal way in which landscaping is done in Brazil. The ‘Santo Antonio’ hill was dismantled with high pressure water to make way for a road, which they describe as urban evolution. The rumble was used for the landfill, on which the Flamengo Park was built. The flora in this park was carefully selected out of a catalog by Brazil’s most renowned landscape artist, Burle Marx. The only things that survived the dismantling of the hill were a convent and a church, because they are considered “exceptional works of art” from Rio’s colonial era. The lake that used to be on that hill and the site of one of Rio’s first favelas were not worthy of preservation. In this fashion, Burle Marx pioneered, or shall I say paved the way for, Brazil’s modernist landscaping style, where we combine industrial urban development with a shallow concern for rain forest biodiversity preservation. In other words, we can turn lakes into landfills, obliterate mountains, and build roads, as soon as we also buy exotic plants and put them on display for tourists. This not only diminishes biodiversity to an angle in marketing strategy, it also does real damage to preservation efforts because it provides a fraudulent remedy for the issue of deforestation (we might as well sell ivory to raise money for an Elephant sanctuary or advocate for the bottling of water because we believe recycling is good).

This landscaping style is also adopted in the context of people’s personal homes and neighborhoods, even when they don’t have the resources to buy replacement plants. A biology professor active in Brazil’s South East region told me that people ask her to sign off on urban planning permits that seek to chop down trees for the most ridiculous reasons: birds poop on cars, fruit falling damages cars, fear and/or distaste for the animals the fruits attract, youngsters go under that tree to make out (!), and so on. Showing an even more disturbing aspect of this government-issued urban planing strategy, she told me that it turns out that while these officials take down trees, they also issue grossly overpriced seedling reports where they most certainly keep the difference as hidden personal assets. For me, the most tragic aspect of this type of corruption is that, in the end, Indigenous people are the ones who earn the reputation of being opportunist (as I’ll discuss in the following section).

Rescuing Indigenous Heritage

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The Rock of the Indian in Icaraí beach, Niterói, Brazil (Photo by Douglas Barros).

Itaipú (the neighborhood of my childhood home) is also a site of Indigenous heritage. It’s located around the Itaipú lake, which unites Itaipú beach, and Camboinhas beach. An upper class wave of Rio de Janeiro’s real estate developers decided to turn some land around the lake (Dunes and such) into a fancy beach condo complex. The problem is that there was an Indigenous tribe living there, and it’s a Sambaqui, meaning- a sort of sacred Indigenous burial ground where no people are buried, but are massive piles of molluscs and shells on which ancient humans lived. These Sambaquis exist all across the coast of Brazil, and they are evidence of human life in the region way before colonial occupation, because these clustered artifacts were the leftovers of what people were eating. This Sambaqui in Camboinhas in particular is the oldest of the state of Rio de Janeiro, dating back over 7 thousand years.

Exactly 10 years ago, in 2008, the Indigenous settlement was set on fire, literally, in the sort of slash-and-burn technique we’ve seen be used before. No one was hurt, but they were forced to move. Now they are in Maricá, the next small town on the coast, after Niterói. I’ve been there this year, they are happy to deal with less harassment at this location, although Maricá’s politicians still argue fiercely about how much financial aid to provide them with (if any). Activists still struggle to save the lagoon, which is a sort of swamp rich in bio-diversity with crabs, frogs, and birds. Some say that the land on which my childhood home was built was once lake, that’s why there were crabs around sometimes (and why I have a crab tattoo).

Unfortunately, the resistance is well organized but at a disadvantage. In the past 10 years the government has made a tunnel through a giant rock, established a special (and expensive) ferry boat network, and is in the process of making an express bus lane to enable a much faster connection between the Itaipú/Camboinhas neighborhoods and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a matter of time until the condos are built. Furthermore, much of the public opinion in the area is that the Indigenous tribe was only in Camboinhas because they were interested in the high value real estate which they were occupying, as if they had some type of financial interest in being there. These are also people who claim that the arson case was a hoax to earn sympathy. Most people don’t even know there ever was an Indigenous tribe in the area, much less that arson happened, they just think that the tunnel is convenient.

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A grassroots action to Save the Lake.

Lies, Lies, and more Lies

The ability to manipulate public opinion is a technique Europeans mastered during colonialism, and, as you can see, still use today in the form of capitalist interests and corruption. In a previous article, I mentioned that my great-great-grandmother was an Indigenous woman that was “caught by lasso” to marry my great-great-grandfather. Though maybe not literally by lasso, consent between a white man and a woman of color was far from a worshiped value.

She was Caeté, a notorious tribe for forming an alliance with the French and becoming enemies of the Portuguese. More notorious was the story that the Caetés practiced cannibalism (this part is true), and ate a Portuguese Bishop called Sardinha (which means Sardine!). After the Portuguese won against the French, the Caetés were enslaved, and fantastic stories of the savagery of these people traveled throughout Europe, to even be illustrated by the Dutch artist Theodor de Bry.

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Theodor de Bry, 1592.

It was only recently that the truthfulness of this story has been called into question. Bishop Sardinha was definitely killed, but apparently not by the Caetés. He might have been murdered by the Governor-General and his son, because he was not happy about how the colony was being run, and was planning to return to Portugal to share his criticisms with the Portuguese King (the bishop was much more religiously strict than other Jesuits; he opposed smoking and inter-racial sex, for instance).

The Governor-General, and especially his son, were certainly engaging in spiritually dubious behavior and did not want the gossip traveling back to the Portuguese royalty. So, they killed the bishop before he could return to Portugal, and framed the Caetés. For the Governor and his family, this was a win-win situation. The King wouldn’t find out what they were up to, and public opinion was shifted towards supporting the enslavement of the Caetés. The simple reason why it’s so difficult to find out what actually happened is because, with the Bishop dead and the Caetés extinct, the only people left to tell the story were the ones who had an interest in lying.

If we look back at 2017, particularly the frantic shift in public opinion over the world stage of politics, we can see this is very much still happening. From a reality show star being in charge of the biggest army in the world, and calling everything ‘fake news’ while giving fake information to journalists, to social media undeniably participating in extremely influential and politically relevant misinformation and censorshipit is evident that they are the ones with an interest in lying.

We’ve only got each other, and I believe the best way to make 2018 as good as it can be is by sticking together and listening to the voices that have an interest in uncovering the truth, as opposed to obscuring it. My article next month will expand on this topic by discussing the modern-day genocide and State terrorism the media enables by evading truth.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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Mirna is an intersectional feminist and decolonial activist from Brazil currently investigating Indigenous heritage. She publishes zines (Something Printed for Reading), and organizes educational events (DIY Workshop).


The Pre-Sale for Anthony Rella’s Circling The Star is here.


TRADUÇÃO

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Lamentar uma Árvore e Denunciar um Sistema

Depois de 15 anos morando no exterior, voltei para minha casa de infância para encontrar o jardim sem árvores. A casa não era grande; um andar, 2 quartos e um jardim de 30 por 15 metros quadrados; em Itaipú, Niterói. O quintal tinha muitas árvores: manga, jamelão, cajá, acerola, banana e vários tipos de arbustos. Tinha. Primeiro, os arbustos foram embora para dar lugar pra pavimento. Depois, um quarto extra substituiu a bananeira e a aceroleira. Agora, uma mangueira existe só, engaiolada em concreto. Chorei. Não chorei porque sou apegada à coisas em geral. Depois de viver em 3 continentes diferentes e eu-não-sei-quantas cidades, me acostumei a deixar coisas pelas quais tenho carinho pra atrás: casas, discos, animais de estimação, livros, rotinas, pessoas queridas, línguas familiares, culturas, e etc. Então, se a perda de algo verdadeiramente quebra meu coração, é porque ha um significado extremamente profundo.

As árvores de manga, cajá e jamelão eram enormes. Imagine essas árvores de 40 anos de idade (pelo menos) formando um triângulo e entrelaçando ramos como companheiras em resistência pacífica e épica. Costumávamos colocar 2 redes entre os 3 troncos e sentar o dia inteiro conversando e bebendo suco de manga. Quando criança, eu pensava que era atleta radical quando escalava nos ramos espessos para apanhar mangas antes que elas caíssem no chão (e se machucavam ou rachavam). Isso foi até que eu encontrei uma já rachada ainda pendurada, com suco escorrendo e uma pequena aranha com pernas gigantes e coloridas sugando. Foi assustador e confuso. Como uma aranha pode cortar a casca grossa de uma manga? Quer dizer, a rachadura era maior que a própria aranha. Deve ter sido o Chupacabra. Toda noite, eu via as rápidas sombras pretas de morcegos de frutas, e me convencia de que era o monstro alienígena chupador de sangue de cabra nas notícias. Claro, era a década de 90; nós tínhamos o X-Files e shows sensacionalistas de “notícias” brasileiras com testemunhos de pessoas reais (você provavelmente pode ver que eu ainda quero acreditar). Quando perguntei aos novos moradores da casa por que cortaram todas aquelas árvores, me disseram que era porque tinham medo dos morcegos (eu também tive medo – quando criança, isso não significa – matar).

Se as pessoas podem se identificar com a minha tristeza no microcosmo de um jardim pessoal, espero que possam imaginar essa tristeza no contexto do país com maior biodiversidade do mundo, também como o país com maior índice de desmatamento. O que leva as pessoas a querer cortar árvores? As técnicas de corte-e-queima utilizadas para fazer ranchos de gado, com a ajuda de plantações de soja, foram responsáveis ​​pela obliteração de 13% da maior floresta tropical do mundo, simplesmente assim. Tudo isso por causa de bife? Tem que te fazer querer chorar, ou falar palavrão, ou os dois.

Não há necessidade de ir para a Amazônia para ver esse tipo de horrorosa destruição acontecer. O parque do Flamengo no Rio de Janeiro é um bom exemplo da maneira brutal em que o paisagismo é feito no Brasil. O morro de Santo Antônio foi desmantelado com água de alta pressão para dar lugar a uma estrada, o que descrevem como “evolução urbana”. O estrondo foi usado para o aterro, no qual o Parque do Flamengo foi construído. A flora deste parque foi cuidadosamente selecionada de um catálogo pelo paisagista mais famoso do Brasil, Burle Marx. As únicas coisas que sobreviveram o desmantelamento do morro foram um convento e uma igreja, porque são consideradas “obras de arte excepcionais” da era colonial do Rio. O lago que estava naquele morro, e o local de uma das primeiras favelas do Rio não eram dignos de preservação. Desta forma, Burle Marx foi pioneiro, ou devo dizer, pavimentou o caminho para o estilo de paisagismo modernista do Brasil, onde combinamos o desenvolvimento urbano industrial com uma preocupação superficial com a preservação da biodiversidade da floresta tropical. Em outras palavras, podemos transformar os lagos em aterros, destruir montanhas e construir estradas, assim que também compremos plantas exóticas para colocá-las em exibição para turistas. Isso não só reduz biodiversidade a um ângulo na estratégia de marketing da cidade, mas também causa danos reais aos esforços de preservação porque fornece um remédio fraudulento para a questão do desmatamento (como poderíamos também vender marfim para arrecadar dinheiro para um santuário de elefantes, ou apoiar o engarrafamento de água porque acreditamos que a reciclagem é bom).

Este estilo de paisagismo também é adotado no contexto das casas e bairros das pessoas, mesmo quando as pessoas não tem recursos para comprar novas plantas de um catálogo. Uma professora de biologia que atua na região Sudeste do Brasil me disse que as pessoas pedem para que ela assine licenças de planejamento urbano que procuram cortar árvores pelos motivos mais ridículos: pássaros fazem cocô nos carros, as frutas quando caem danificam carros, medo e/ou a aversão aos animais que os frutos atraem, jovens ficam se beijando em baixo da árvore (!), e assim por diante. Mostrando um aspecto ainda mais perturbador desta estratégia de planejamento urbano emitida pelo governo, ela me disse que enquanto estes funcionários derrubam árvores, eles também emitem relatórios de compra de novas mudas como se fossem mais caras do que realmente são, para poderem ficar com a diferença como bens pessoais. Para mim, o aspecto mais trágico deste tipo de corrupção é que, no final, os povos indígenas são os que ganham a reputação de serem oportunistas (como falo na seção seguinte).

Resgatando Patrimônio Indígena

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Itaipú (o bairro da minha casa de infância) também é uma area de forte herança indígena. Está localizada ao redor da lagoa de Itaipú, que une a praia de Itaipú e a praia de Camboinhas. Uma onda de classe alta de desenvolvedores imobiliários do Rio de Janeiro decidiu transformar algumas terras ao redor da lagoa em elegantes condomínios de praia. O problema é que havia uma tribo indígena que vivia lá, e é um Sambaqui, que significa uma espécie de cemitério indígena sagrado, onde não há pessoas enterradas, mas são enormes pilhas de moluscos e conchas em que viviam indígenas. Esses Sambaquis existem em todo o litoral do Brasil, e são evidências da vida humana na região antes da ocupação colonial, porque esses artefatos agrupados eram os restos do que as pessoas estavam comendo. Este Sambaqui em Camboinhas em particular é o mais antigo do estado do Rio de Janeiro, com mais de 7 mil anos de idade.

Exatamente 10 anos atrás, em 2008, o assentamento indígena foi incendiado, literalmente, no tipo de técnica de corte-e-queima que vimos ser usada antes. Ninguém foi ferido, mas eles foram forçados a se mudar. Agora estão em Maricá, a próxima pequena cidade na costa, depois de Niterói. Estive lá este ano, eles estão felizes em lidar com menos assédio neste local, embora os políticos de Maricá ainda discutam ferozmente sobre quanta ajuda financeira lhes proporcionar (se alguma). Ativistas ainda lutam para salvar a lagoa, que é uma espécie de pântano rico em biodiversidade com caranguejos, sapos e pássaros. Alguns dizem que a terra em que minha casa de infância foi construída era uma vez lagoa, por isso havia caranguejos às vezes (e por que eu tenho uma tatuagem de caranguejo).

Infelizmente, a resistência está bem organizada, mas em desvantagem. Nos últimos 10 anos, o governo fez um túnel, estabeleceu uma rede especial (e cara) de barcas, e está em processo de fazer uma via de ônibus para permitir uma conexão mais rápida entre os bairros de Itaipú/Camboinhas e Rio de Janeiro. É uma questão de tempo até que os condomínios sejam construídos. Além disso, grande parte da opinião pública na área é que a tribo indígena estava apenas em Camboinhas porque estavam interessados ​​no alto valor imobiliário que estavam ocupando, como se tivessem algum tipo de interesse financeiro em estar lá. Estas são também pessoas que afirmam que o caso de incêndio criminoso foi fabricado para ganhar simpatia. A maioria das pessoas nem sabem que já houve uma tribo indígena na área, muito menos que o incêndio aconteceu, apenas pensam que o túnel é conveniente.

Mentiras, Mentiras e mais Mentiras

A capacidade de manipular a opinião pública é uma técnica que os europeus dominaram durante o colonialismo e, como você pode ver, ainda usa hoje em forma de interesses capitalistas e corrupção. Em um artigo anterior, mencionei que minha bisavó era uma mulher indígena que foi “caçada a laço” para se casar com meu bisavô. Embora talvez não tenha sido literalmente a lasso, o consentimento entre um homem branco e uma mulher de cor estava longe de ser uma coisa praticada e valorizada.

Ela era Caeté, uma tribo notória por formar uma aliança com os franceses e se tornar inimiga dos portugueses. Mais notória foi a história de que os Caetés praticavam canibalismo (esta parte é verdade) e comeram um Bispo português chamado Sardinha. Depois que os portugueses ganharam contra os franceses, os Caetés foram escravizados e histórias fantásticas da selvageria desse povo viajaram por toda a Europa, inclusive foram ilustradas pelo artista holandês Theodor de Bry.

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Foi apenas recentemente que a credibilidade desta história foi questionada. O bispo Sardinha foi definitivamente morto, mas aparentemente não pelos Caetés. Ele provavelmente foi assassinado pelo governador-geral e seu filho, porque ele não estava feliz com a forma como a colônia estava sendo executada e estava planejando voltar para Portugal para compartilhar suas críticas com o rei português (o bispo era muito mais religiosamente rigoroso do que outros jesuítas, ele se opôs ao tabagismo e sexo inter racial, por exemplo). O governador-geral, e especialmente o filho dele, certamente estavam envolvidos em comportamentos espiritualmente duvidosos e não queriam que as fofocas chegassem a realeza portuguesa. Então, eles mataram o bispo antes que ele pudesse voltar para Portugal, e escravizou os Caetés. Para o governador e sua família, esta foi uma situação duplamente vitoriosa. O Rei não descobriu o que eles estavam fazendo, e a opinião pública se enclinou em apoiar a escravização dos Caetés. A simples razão pela qual é tão difícil descobrir o que realmente aconteceu é porque, com o bispo morto e os Caetés extintos, as únicas pessoas que sobraram para contar a história eram aquelas que tinham interesse em mentir.

Se olharmos para 2017, particularmente a mudança frenética na opinião pública sobre o palco político mundial, podemos ver que isso ainda está acontecendo. De uma estrela de reality show gerenciando o maior exército do mundo e chamando de tudo “falsas notícias” e ao mesmo tempo fornecendo informações falsas aos jornalistas, as mídias sociais que inegavelmente participam de desinformação e censura extremamente influentes e politicamente relevantes – é evidente que estes são os que tem interesse em mentir. Nós só temos uns aos outros, e acredito que a melhor maneira de tornar o 2018 o melhor possível é se unir e ouvir as vozes que têm interesse em descobrir a verdade, ao invés de obscurecer-la. Meu artigo no próximo mês expandirá este tópico ao discutir o genocídio contemporâneo e o terrorismo de Estado que os meios de comunicação permitem por evadir a verdade.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_né co-Editora de Gods and Radicals.

The Establishment’s Mistake: Ignoring the Youth Vote

If you’ve been paying attention, election results aren’t turning out the way that the pollsters and the pundits expected them to in four of the most high-profile recent elections in Western democratic countries.

In the highly contentious 2015 Canadian federal election, at the beginning of the campaign it looked as though people were angry enough that they were ready to oust the Conservative government under Stephen Harper that had reigned for a decade, but the NDP was clearly the front runner.  By the beginning of August, Maclean’s Magazine, a middle-right leaning magazine that is highly respected in Canada for its analysis of business and politics, said it was anybody’s game.  And of course, at the last minute, what actually happened was that the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau swept in to claim the victory.

In the 2016 United States Presidential election, it was clear to everyone that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and by a landslide.  Of course, though she did win the popular vote, that’s not what actually happened.

Most pundits were refusing to call the 2017 French election.  But of course most of the world breathed a sigh of relief when Emmanuel Macron beat far-right Front National leader Marine LePen.

And in Britain just this past month, Elizabeth May and the Conservative Party of the UK called a snap election, smugly confident that this would result in the vast majority needed to give them a free hand in Brexit negotiations.  But it didn’t turn out that way.  The Labour Party under democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn showed so well that they stole the Conservative majority, endangering their control of government to the point that they had to make a devil’s bargain to keep power, and most pundits treated it like a victory for Corbyn, rather than May’s defeat.  This, despite the fact that the Conservatives won their highest vote share since 1983, rivaling their results under the Iron Lady, and despite sabotage within Corbyn’s own party from people who thought he was running too far to the left.

So what gives?  How could these expert opinions have been so wildly inaccurate?

I believe it comes from an Establishment tradition of underestimating the youth vote.  This has been exacerbated in recent years by the difficulty of polling young people, who do not participate in traditional models like phone polls, and whose voices on social media are being drowned by fake accounts and internet bots.  But in part, it’s deliberate.

It is not in the Establishment’s interests for the youth to vote.  They engage in a policy of denigrating the importance of the youth in election results.  They project the impression, furthered by the media, that the youth do not care about politics, and their vote won’t matter anyway because they’re so outnumbered by other demographics.  Conservative and right-wing parties, knowing that they don’t do as well when more people show up to vote, institute policies when they’re in power that make it more difficult to register, such as requiring ID under the pretense of “voter fraud,” something that is more difficult for young and poor people to acquire.

This policy is threatening them at the polls.  Galvanized by consistent policies that our youth rightfully see as contrary to their values and destructive of their future, there is a huge movement in today’s youth to be more politically involved.  If the system is the only way to change the future, they will engage, and when they do, sh*t gets real.

The voter turnout at the Canadian 2015 election was the highest in 2 decades.  New voters and the youth demographic were considerably more involved than in previous years.  And they were overwhelmingly behind Justin Trudeau.  Some cynically claim it was because of the Liberal position on legalizing cannabis (and there may be some truth in that); others think maybe it was just that Trudeau was the youngest of the candidates; still others believe it was genuinely because the Liberal Party made an effort to engage young voters.  Whatever the reason, it worked.

In the UK general election a massive surge of young voters almost turned the tide completely in the Labour Party’s favour.  More than a million new voters registered in the month that Ms. May and the Conservatives allowed before the UK election.  The youth turnout was the highest in 25 years, according to the statistics, and they were mostly behind the Labour Party and its socialist platform.

On the other hand, in some places, youth engagement and this policy of ignoring the youth vote seemed to benefit the New Right more than the left.  Early polls suggested that almost half of France’s youth vote supported LePen and the Front National (though later this was amended to 34% of the youth vote, just a little more than her typical support level across the voting spectrum.)  And of course the American election remains a tangled, ugly mess, vote tampering from outside forces aside.  But it’s clear that one of the factors that influenced that election was that the youth supported Bernie Sanders, felt he was cheated of the Democratic nomination, and decided to cast their votes on third parties or on no one instead.

Speculation runs rampant among political pundits as to why the youth supported one candidate or party or another.  Some say that the parties who engaged the most with social media did better among the youth than those who did not.  If you discount the fact that Trump may have won because the millennials opted out of Clinton, this would seem consistent.  And this could also be confusing cause with effect.  Young people drive social media, so more young people are going to be engaged by definition.

Others disparagingly observe that “populists” are doing better among younger voters.  I think this is an oversimplification.  The truth is that young people are angry.  They know that not only is the existing system not working, it is rigged against them and is selling away their futures.  They have no loyalty to their companies because they know their companies have no loyalty to them; and I think the same holds true in politics.

But does that mean they will jump on any populist parade that comes along?  I don’t think so.  The election results in the US tell us that.  When given the best of bad options, they’ll choose not to choose, and without the youth to help contest them, that allowed the core right wing supporters to take the victory.

The political wisdom suggests that middle-centrists are the best the left can do in a popular vote.  But remember, the political pundits are paid mostly by multi-million dollar media corporations, who are clearly invested in the Establishment, corporate interest.  Left-wing policies cut into their profit margin.

When given the option, young voters choose the candidate they perceive as being the most Progressive, as evidenced in the Canadian and UK federal elections.  They want change, and they overwhelmingly vote in a way that suggests that they value progressive change.

So, what can the Establishment do to win over young voters, which is becoming a more and more significant demographic with every passing year, as slowly the Baby Boomers fade into the sunset?  They can run on more Progressive, left-wing platforms, and then do the things they’ve promised when they get elected.

And if you’re a young voter reading this, and you’ve been feeling despair, I hope if nothing else this shows you that the path to victory is to get involved in the process at a grassroots level.  Primary your Senators, register to vote, join movements like #Resist.  Because you are a far more powerful force than you know, and our hopes for the future rest upon you.

 

Editorial: Post-Truth Capitalism and Pre-Truth Revolution

You can’t miss either of the two operative buzz-words being bandied around like so much meaningless noise in the last few months. The media rails about it, politicians whine over it, activists shout it: we’re now in a ‘post-truth’ world, drowning in ‘fake news.’ The election of Trump was blamed on it, the rise of the alt/new/fascist right is a sign of it, and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom happened because of it.

Really, though? Does no one care about truth any longer? Are lies suddenly masquerading as journalism? Is there some new scourge of deception and delusion sweeping across the Western world, making it impossible to tell what’s really going on around us?

Nah. This isn’t new. And it’s not what we’re told to think is happening, either.

Let’s look at some news stories of this last week in the United States, shall we?

  • A few nights ago, Meryl Streep criticized Trump and called herself and other Hollywood actors ‘the most vilified segment in America.’
  • Two days later, the new president of the United States engaged in this exchange with a reporter for a news company owned by the third largest media conglomerate in the world:

All these examples I mention were news stories, reporting on actual events which occurred. It’s true that Meryl Streep gave that speech, it’s true there are claims about that video, that Trump argued with that reporter. Tanks moved into Germany to protect against Russian invasion, and also C-Span’s live footage was interrupted by Russian Television.

But in each case, truth was utterly irrelevant to the stories. Let’s look at them all again.

Meryl Streep is currently worth $45 million dollars. While there are certainly some who probably think Hollywood is full of degenerate reprobates, unless she meant that rich people are the most vilified people, it’s hard to imagine she wasn’t just engaging in one of her award-winning performances.

The second of these stories is a bit more complex. Watch Trump’s exchange with the reporter again if you can (I’ve watched in over thirty times now, it’s so fascinating).  

The reporter is the chief White House correspondent for CNN. A couple of things you probably already know about CNN: they’re owned by the third largest media conglomerate in the world, are worth $10 billion dollars, likely turned a 1 billion dollar profit in 2016, and were the first media outlet to break a certain story Trump was understandably upset about.

That story, of course, was of the piss-video. Or, less sensational but potentially more-damning (c’mon, it’s just piss) is the dossier which claims such a video exists. That document, by the way, is available to you on Buzzfeed, the same quality news site that keeps you up-to-date on J.K. Rowling’s twitter feuds and quizzes about the Kardashians and whether or not you are devoted enough to chocolate. (I’m not, apparently).

Read the dossier if you like. You won’t find the video (and probably wouldn’t want to see it anyway) because no one’s certain there actually is one. The dossier suggests it, but before you go trusting that, there’s some stuff you should know about who wrote it.

It was written for a private intelligence firm by a private investigator originally commissioned by a rich Republican customer who wanted to stop Trump. But then, according to the New York Times:

 the Republican interest in financing the effort ended. But Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton were very interested, and Fusion GPS kept doing the same deep dives, but on behalf of new clients.

And from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept (a reporter hated by both Democrats and Republicans alike for his whistleblowing activities:)

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER it was published, the farcical nature of the “dossier” manifested. Not only was its author anonymous, but he was paid by Democrats (and, before that, by Trump’s GOP adversaries) to dig up dirt on Trump. Worse, he himself cited no evidence of any kind but instead relied on a string of other anonymous people in Russia he claims told him these things. Worse still, the document was filled with amateur errors.

So the dossier exists, but the tapes probably don’t, and the whole thing is likely false and was paid for by people who wanted to prove that Trump is being manipulated by Russia.

Which brings us to the last two news stories. The report of the tanks rolling into Bremerhaven, Germany was short but chilling:

The deployment — which also includes 3,500 U.S. Troops — is to protect Eastern Europe against a potential Russian invasion.

In the dock area of the German city of Bremerhaven all around is American military hardware just off the boat — everything from Humvees to tanks. The official name for this display of military muscle is Operation Atlantic Resolve. 

Its purpose is to reassure America’s nervous European allies that the U.S. military will stand with them against any aggressive moves by Russia.

Sounds scary, huh? And it should be a bit scary. But what the report doesn’t mention is that Operation Atlantic Resolve was initiated in 2014 and started its primary roll-out in April 2015. That is, the tanks rolling in to Germany from the US are definitely an escalation in military tensions, but not a spontaneous one. In fact, they happened before the Russians were accused of meddling in the US election, and might even help explain a Russian motive for hacking the pro-war Democratic campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The last story is the easiest to resolve. RT (which is, again, a Russian-funded media organisation fully doing the government’s bidding, just like American news companies usually do) didn’t hijack C-Span. According to C-Span, they themselves made the error.


Guardians at the Gate of Truth

IF YOU’RE feeling a bit dizzy with all this, don’t worry. I’m done deconstructing news stories. But it’s worth returning Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech. After the bit about being vilified, just before talking about what a privilege it is to be the voice of empathy to the world, she urged everyone to support the Committee to Protect Journalists because, as she said,

“they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

Need who, though? Not actors. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Meryl Streep. But I don’t get my truth from her. And anyway, she was talking about the media.

But what truth is possible in such a world where both political parties pay private investigators to come up with a story about piss-play to stop Trump? What truth is possible in a world where a company worth $10 billion dollars is seen as a victim against another billionaire? That same news company, by the way, who made $1 billion partially due to election coverage and campaign advertisements? Truth probably isn’t going to come from Buzzfeed either, though according to Dan Rather, Teen Vogue seems to be doing some cutting-edge reporting of late. (omg #couplegoals!)

All this is to suggest that yeah, we are in a fake-news, post-truth world. But the problem isn’t Trump or the rise of the alt/new/fascist-right, or Russian meddling in elections. If anything, they’re symptoms, and the real problem’s not even new.

We’ve mostly been taught to think of news companies as some sort of independent check upon the government and corporations. They’re supposed to investigate things, to bring stuff to light that the powerful don’t want to see, report things to us, inform us.

It’s a pretty story, sure, and it happens that way sometimes. And perhaps it happened more like that in the past, though with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the legacy of ‘yellow journalism,‘ it’s a bit hard to prove such a nostalgic idea is any less propagandistic than Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”

News shapes the way we see the world. We call it ‘the media’ as a shorthand (the news ‘media’: that is, newspapers, television, etc.) but it’s more accurate to employ the other meaning of that world, ‘middle.’ News is the mediator between the world and our understanding of it, the narrative which shapes how we view politics and power. What it tells us about a story determines how we understand not just that story, but the sorts of people it reports on and what is relevant.

Need an example? Consider the relationship to race and crime in news reporting. Black suspects are almost always described by their race; white suspects very rarely are. Decades of news stories where a murder or rape suspect’s race is only included in a story if they happen not to be white has the obvious affect of associating Blackness with criminality. Worse, because we are told to think of journalists as ‘objective,’ we tend to see the facts they report as objectively-selected facts. It’s easy to forget that it’s actually the reporter, and the editor, and the publisher who decide what’s relevant to a story, not the story itself.

We naturally omit details we think are irrelevant and emphasize things we think are important. If you ask me what I’m doing right at this moment, I’ll tell you that I’m writing an essay for God&Radicals. I wouldn’t mention that I’m also waiting for tea water to boil or happen to be shirtless, because that seems irrelevant.  But now that I’ve mentioned I’m shirtless, you might have just envisioned me as such while reading this.

The point, then, is that narrative is selective, and what gets included or excluded shapes the experience of truth. I’m shirtless, waiting for tea water to boil while writing an essay. I’ve just shaped how you experience me.

Expand that on a large scale, and throw in two things we very often forget about news. The first? Well, capitalism. CNN, Buzzfeed, the New York Times, etc. etc., they’re capitalist enterprises. They need to make money. They are in the business of shaping narrative, telling you stories, giving you ‘news’ (or telling you how many times you’ll get married according to your choices in cheese–in my case, three). To make money, they need your attention–they need you checking back, seeing them as reliable or entertaining, the place you look to when you want to find out about the world.

Capitalism isn’t the whole story, though. Because news shapes how you see the world, because media outlets are the fastest way to get a narration out into the world, and because we have a desire to understand things, the media is in a position of immense power over our behavior. Advertising is an obvious example, but every facet of our relationships to government and each other is an open playground to their whims. As in the example of racialized crime reporting, journalists shape the way we see Black folk, or Muslims, or immigrants. But more so, they shape the way we relate to the government and to other countries. They often act in the service of the government, but always act in their own interest.

Whether or not Russia is really actively meddling in the political affairs of the United States is quite impossible to tell. What’s more important is whether or not we think they are, and some political powers have more interest in us believing this than others. For a different example, consider the lead-up to the war in Iraq: there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, but every capitalist media company in the United States reported the government’s story as if there were.

Were they then and are they now merely trying to keep our attention? Or did the rich who ran those media companies have an interest in seeing the US go to war then and possibly go to war now? Are they being manipulated by the government, or are they trying to manipulate the government? Do some want us to go to war with Russia, or are they trying to fight off foreign intrusion?

These are questions we can’t really answer, but that brings us anyway to an even more important question:

Why are we letting capitalists decide what’s true for us?


Post-Truth Capitalism and Pre-Truth Revolution

MAYBE you’re feeling what I’ve been feeling. It’s like quakes shuddering through our pysches, the ground slipping beneath us. A friend described it as ‘giants throwing rocks at each other.’ When I was a kid, I watched my baby-sitter’s boyfriend fight with another guy, and I hid with my sisters behind the couch until the fighting was over. It feels like that.

Something does seem to have happened to the truth, but it’s not that it disappeared. The truth was never actually there in the first place, and we’re only now just starting to see this. Everything we thought was solid seems to be melting into air. Everything we held sacred seems like it is being profaned.

There’s a war for truth being fought, the same war that has always occurred between priests and kings. Who gets to decide what the people believe, who gets to hold ultimate power over the minds and souls of millions?

If it seems like this is a new war, it’s probably that one side won for awhile. The truth was occupied, colonized, an imperial subject too beaten down to throw off its oppressors. But now? Now the empire’s starting to crumble. The capitalists are fighting each other, political alliance against political alliance, media conglomerate against media conglomerate, government against government. Liberals or Conservatives, Russia or US, CNN or Breitbart, it’s impossible to tell who’s going to win, who will capture the throne of meaning and truth.

Maybe they’ll all lose, and that’s actually the best thing we could possibly hope for. In fact, this is the opening we need, the opportunity we’ve been waiting for, the potential for a revolutionary change in the entire realm of truth-creation.

While they fight each other for dominance over the truth, the rest of us can see more clearly how subjective truth really is. When news companies publish fake news and teen style magazines publish in-depth analysis, everything’s gone into flux, the truth is slipping, going where it wants to go, and might just escape back into our hands.

Because in all those battles, certain things aren’t said. None talk about the environment, climate collapse, extinction. There are natural limits to capitalism, and we’ve probably hit them. Dwindling resources, melting ice-caps, degraded soil, economic collapse–these are the truths we see in front of us, things those closest to the earth don’t need a screen or smartphone to tell them. The truth is in front of us, under our feet, in the eyes of the panicked people around us.

Everything else is just distraction for the profit of the rich, the same people causing this crisis in the first place.  Fortunately, they’re pretty distracted themselves at the moment. They won’t be for long, and they might even try their greatest weapon against us to hold onto truth–an actual war.

In capitalism’s post-truth moment, our chance has arrived. The revolution is not yet a truth, but it can be. The same media who tells us it’s impossible told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a video of Trump covered in urine:  they’re losing their grip on our narrative. The same politicians who assure us that empire will last forever are fighting as we speak to keep their thrones from toppling under the weight of capitalist in-fighting.

Anarchists and Marxists both insist on seizing the means of production back from the capitalists. It’s time to expand this: we must seize the production of meaning back from them, too.

How?

By no longer believing their stories about the world while also creating our own. By ignoring their narrative while crafting a new one. Be it newspapers or books, radio shows or podcasts, we can must tell our stories against theirs, make ours more beautiful, more compelling, more intoxicating than their flashy yet shallow truths.

Most of all, we must refuse to take either side in the war the rich are fighting against each other. Neither Liberals nor Conservatives, neither the media nor the president, neither Russia or the United States. They depend on us to fight these wars for them, to take one side or another.

If we withdraw, they will have to fight these wars themselves, and while they’re distracted, we’ll make our own truth and build our own world without them.


Rhyd Wildermuth

img_0967Rhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarch, or you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook. He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too.


Like this piece? You will probably love our print and digital publications, including our journal A Beautiful Resistance and Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism! Find out more here.

The Pitfalls of Internet Media

I wrote most of this article weeks ago, but I stumbled on this business just yesterday and I thought it illustrated the problems I’m discussing here brilliantly.  Apparently the New York Times edited an online article for content after it was posted to completely change the tone.

The Young Turks: New York Times Edits Pro-Bernie Article Into Hit Piece

Rolling Stone: How the ‘New York Times’ Sandbagged Bernie Sanders

The Public Editor responds in the New York Times by saying, “They’re right, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Since the Public Editor is supposed to be a watchdog for the public trust to insure honesty in media, I guess it’s okay to completely manipulate a story like this.  This is an acceptable standard for our most trusted sources in mainstream media.  And this is how they’re handling the move to get online.*

Globe Molecule by Dawn Hudson (public domain image).
Globe Molecule by Dawn Hudson (public domain image).

In my article from two weeks ago I discussed how the internet is threatening the supremacy of corporate media, particularly broadcast media, along with how this is forever altering the way we do politics.  But the halcyon days of net neutrality are already over.  There are ways in which large corporations are manipulating the internet to their advantage.

The process of media convergence is resulting in a small handful of very large companies being able to control not only what you can watch or read, but your internet access and your phone and cell phone services as well.  Not only that; they are learning how to manipulate search engine results, public perceptions, and social media to their advantage.  Only by being aware of these tactics, and in some cases fighting their lobbyists in the political and legal arenas, can we hope to maintain this precious resource.

Let’s point out some of the problems and discuss solutions:

Problem: Favouritism in search engines

Search engines list the most frequented sites on a given topic first.  In these situations, corporate media still has the advantage because they still have a reputation that encourages a lot of people to go to them first.  Most of us glance at the first five or six listings (because the human brain can only count five objects at once in a glance) and then choose the one we like the sound of best.  If we’re really literate or really interested maybe we read two or three.

Solution: Make sure you skim down the rest of the page, maybe a couple of pages, and try to read at least one differing opinion from your own with an open mind.  And never forget that Google is a large corporation.

Problem: News aggregates

Most of us get our internet news from aggregates such as Huffington Post.  They use software that selects the most popular articles from the most-visited sources.  As a result, they give you the same information that the first six links on Google give you; and they have their biases as well.

Solution: Same as above.  Try to find an opposing viewpoint to the one your favourite news aggregate offers you.

Problem: Information overload

Because there’s so much information out there we often don’t spend the time we should to use our discernment.  Furthermore, knowing this, media outlets, corporations and political parties flood the internet with articles and links that support their bias, which makes it look as though their bias is the most prevalent opinion. The more money available to a given group, the better they are at this.

Solution: Don’t fall for it.  Even if the opinion in question is the prevailing one, that doesn’t make it the “correct” opinion anyway.  Double check the data and decide for yourself.

Problem: Expert opinions

Groups with political motivations will try to lend their viewpoint legitimacy by enlisting experts to support that viewpoint.  But money talks even among “experts,” as anyone who has ever been through a civil lawsuit could tell you.

Solution: Consider the source.  A scientist working for Exxon is not going to support the climate change data.  An avowed atheist is going to ignore any information that supports divine powers.  Pharmaceutical companies are going to discredit any medicinal source that they can’t manufacture and patent.  Economists of the Koch Brothers sponsored Fraser Institute are not going to support economic models that don’t benefit the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Problem: Misleading and clickbait headlines

Most of us don’t read whole articles.  We read the headlines and then skim the text.  As a result we acquire an oversimplified version of the facts, and we miss subtle caveats or even contradictory information contained in the rest of the article.  Journalists writing to the direction of company heads with particular political viewpoints sometimes know this and use it to deliberately downplay facts that contradict those viewpoints, while at the same time claiming a lack of bias because their articles do contain those facts; they’re just written in the internet equivalent of small print at the end.

Solution: If you’re going to read an article, read all of it before casting judgment.

Problem: Siloing and polarization

Because there are so many choices available to us in internet media we often only read the information that supports our pre-existing viewpoints, rather than trying to get a whole picture.  As a result we often find ourselves in echo chambers that gradually lose touch with the big picture.  Also, journalists supporting a bias often deliberately write articles to encourage us to divide into camps without considering individual issues and situations.

Solution: Again, read contradictory articles.  Or find an online friend who supports political views that you don’t that you can have a respectful debate with.

Problem: Copyright laws

Did you know that when an American article posted a clip from the Daily Show, no Canadian could watch it unless we wanted to watch the whole episode?  Copyright laws are applied unequally, depending on the desires of certain groups.  “Fair Use” is actually subject to individual interpretation, so corporations will often enforce their copyright when a site uses their clip or photos in a way that doesn’t support their viewpoint when they wouldn’t if it did; or governments with particular agendas (such as the right wing Harper administration) will make it more difficult for media that disagrees with their preferred narrative to circulate opposing viewpoints by unequally applying copyright claims.

Solution: This is a tricky one because it’s so hard to prove.  A copyright holder has every legal right to enforce their copyright however they wish.  But perhaps small copyright holders should consider the broader implications of draconian copyright enforcement with a view to the long term, rather than buying into the narrative that claims that such laws protect small artists as much as it does big business.

Problem: Internet censorship

Lobbyists working for large media companies, such as Sony, continue to push for legislation that censors what is available on the internet and to whom.  The United Kingdom has been cited as one of the enemies of the internet by Reporters Without Borders largely due to their ISP filtering defaults.  Only the Constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and vocal protests against anything that limits that freedom have thus far managed to keep lobbyists from successfully censoring the internet in the United States enough to make that list; though the pretenses of enforcing copyright and preventing cyberbullying have weakened those rights.

Solution:  There are only three; petition, protest, and politicize.

Problem: Corporate internet marketing and privacy

Most major internet and social media companies now collect demographic data on us whether we want them to or not.  So do our cell phone providers.  They claim that they do this to provide us with information and advertising suited to our preferences.  In reality this simply increases the siloing and also allows corporations and governments to routinely violate our privacy, even if that’s not exactly what it was intended for.

Solution:  Fight this uninvited snooping any way that you can.  Protest, lobby, and always edit your privacy options, no matter how complicated that is.

Problem:  Obsessive, rude and professional commentors

Did you know that political parties have begun paying people who (at least say that they) share their views to comment on news stories online?  This, along with some genuinely focused people, is why you can’t read an article about sexism in politics without someone ranting about political correctness and feminists, and why you can’t read an article on climate change without some hothead sputtering their defense of oil production.  This makes it sound like more people support such opinions than actually do, which gives said viewpoints the appearance of greater legitimacy.

Also, the toxic nature of internet commentary, fueled by a human tendency to be nastier and more rude to anonymous people they don’t know than they would be to someone they were speaking to in person, creates a confrontational environment where people become more concerned about arguing with people than the issue at hand.

Solution: Don’t comment to engage with commentors.  Better yet, don’t read the comments section at all.  If you wish to engage with the article’s author in any way, be it positive, negative, to ask a question or to provide information, read quickly through all of the comments to see if your issue has already been addressed and then post what you need to post.

Problem: Pretty does not equal accurate

It is human nature to listen to people we find attractive more than people we don’t, and we tend to believe that a more professional look to a site means that the site is more legitimate.  But of course that’s utter nonsense.

Solution: Read between the lines and don’t dismiss something, or someone, just because it isn’t visually appealing.

ProblemOpinions are like . . .

Anybody can say anything they want on the internet.  But often the opinions offered are unsubstantiated, backed by logical fallacies, or unsupported by real data.

Solution:  This problem obviously affects other forms of media too so don’t let that stop you.  But look for logical fallacies and patronize sites that cite their sources over ones that don’t.  Also, consider who is doing the speaking.  Obviously if someone works for the oil industry they probably want to downplay information about the receding ice caps or pollution in Beijing.

Looking to the Future

We have no idea of our own power.  We need to take the information we’re learning online and do the only three things we really have the power to do with it; petition, protest, and politicize.  We are the hope of the future.

The internet is changing the game and providing great freedom of information.  But we have to be willing and able to use it, and we have to use our discernment in order to benefit from it.  Politicians who want public support in the future will have to learn how to navigate the internet with aplomb; and we will have to learn how not to be manipulated if we want to reap its benefits.

*Please note: I include this information only to illustrate my point. I tend to follow stories on Bernie Sanders because I like him and I am disturbed by how the media is treating him, but I would not presume to endorse any Presidential candidate. I’m not from the US and it’s not my right to tell US citizens who they should vote for as their President.

Millennials & the Revolution of Politics

Right now in the United States, Super Tuesday is just a couple of days away.  It’s pretty amazing that I know that.  I have never paid such close attention to American politics before.  I never cared that much; not until it came down to the actual Republican vs. Democrat.  In general we, your neighbours to the North, breathe more easily when it’s the latter.

But right now there’s a political revolution going on that has broad implications in both of our countries.  There’s a huge generational divide.  It’s the generation we call the Millennials.  They’re changing how everything works.  In current North American politics, both in the recent Canadian federal election and in the upcoming American Presidential election, there has been a visible, undeniable generational split in opinions at the polls, and it has made, and is making, a significant difference.  Millennials are the reason that the Conservative Harper regime in Canadian government was finally overthrown, and Millennials are changing the face of American politics even as you read this.  Nothing in national democratic politics is ever going to be the same again.

Why?  Is it that Millennials are creative and innovative?  Well, to some degree that’s true; the younger generation is almost always more flexible and more willing to try new things than the older generation.  Is it that they realize how fixed the system is and they are desperate for change?  Well, that’s partially true too.

But more than anything, I think it comes down to one simple thing: Boomers watch TV.  And Millennials don’t.

The Problem with Corporate Media

We in democratic capitalist societies labour under the delusion that the media is the Fifth Estate, which exists as an independent watchdog to inform us on the benevolence, and abuses, of those in power.  The media, we believe, reports on events in a way that delivers the news with forethought, expert consultation, and a fair, if not entirely unbiased, lens.  My parents still share this subconscious assumption.  But it’s not true.  It’s never been true.

Corporate media is, of course, interested in furthering the interests of things that benefit corporations.  In general, they support right wing policies because right wing governments support bigger corporate tax breaks, trickle-down economics, low wages, and lack of regulation.  It’s only common sense, really.  These things benefit any large corporation, and I don’t think there’s any denying that broadcast media is entirely ruled by large corporations.   What you may not know is just how large they are.

You would think that print media would be different; the last bastion of the independent journalist.  But again, you would be mistaken.  Almost every major newspaper in Canada is owned by two companies.  That’s right, just two.  They are Sun Media and Postmedia.  How big do you think a corporation has to be to own so many newspapers?

It didn’t used to be that way.  There was the CBC, and then there were mostly local private companies.  Until our broadcast media was partially deregulated in 2008, and again in 2011, by the Conservative government of the time.  Is it any wonder that the news seems to be favouring the right wing view more and more all the time?

Sometimes the bias is so blatant that it’s a suitable subject for ridicule.  But most of the time it is subtle; so subtle I know most people don’t notice it.  Watching coverage of the Bill C-51 protests here in Canada was most instructional for me, because I had just caught on to the tricks and so I really noticed them:

Two very different stories may be observed in the Vancouver Sun, which is a major corporate newspaper, and the Vancouver Observer, which is a somewhat respected but smaller and decidedly more left wing “alternative” media source.  Both papers are reporting on the exact same protest in the same city.  If you’d like to play along at home, I urge you to fire both of those links up in separate tabs and compare them as you read.

Our first clues as to the tack of the stories can be found in the headlines.  The editor of a paper is the one who chooses the headlines.  The Vancouver Sun headlines their story with “Vancouver protesters rally against Tories’ Bill C-51.”  Seems innocuous enough, right?  But let’s break it down a little.  First, limiting the story to Vancouver divorces it from the national movement in the minds of the readers.  Vancouver has a reputation for being a sort of “San Francisco of Canada,” and is regarded as a haven for what the right wing sees as “leftist nutbars.”  So this makes it sound like the protest is a local phenomenon.  Note, also, that the Sun is quick to call it “The Tories’ Bill.”  This demands polarization.  It makes it personal.  It suggests that anyone who might disagree with the bill is only taking exception to the then-unpopular Tories, rather than objecting to legislation which gives unsettling powers to the government. It trivializes it as “party politics.”  It’s a “nothing to see here” tactic.

In the meanwhile, the Vancouver Observer tells us that “Thousands protest Bill C-51 across Canada.”  We are meant to be alarmed.  Thousands? What is horrible enough to get “thousands” to protest?  And “across Canada?”  What could be causing such a sweeping concern?

Our next big clue is image.  The Observer has chosen an image that shows a vast sea of protesters, standing politely with their signs and listening to a speaker on a stage.  I am sure that they were trying to get as many people as possible in the shot to display how widespread the opposition to the bill is.

In the meantime, the Sun has chosen a much closer angle, so that you really have no idea how many people are at the event.  And they have also chosen a picture intended to make the protesters look as stupid as possible.  The big sign in the center of the image says, “Harper Darper,” which sounds like a child making fun of someone in the schoolyard.  If that weren’t bad enough, the most clearly-visible sign other than that one says, “Honk to defeat Happer!”  Obviously it’s a misprint, and the protester tried to correct it – you can see a black Sharpie line turning that first P into an R if you squint – but it’s difficult to see and obviously your first impression is meant to be “what a bunch of buffoons!”  You are supposed to dismiss them as “stupid left wing crazies.”

Now let’s break down the articles themselves.  Our first paragraphs set the stage nicely.  In the Sun we are told that “more than a thousand people” gathered to protest “Harper” in particular, and “the new anti-terror bill” by extension.  Okay, yes, there were more than a thousand people.  The Observer tells us that there were actually about a thousand more people than a thousand people, which is a total of two thousand.  So the Sun was telling the truth, but the implication minimizes things just a little.  Also, the Sun is letting us know that the protesters are protesting Harper because they don’t like him; not the proposed legislation because it’s objectionable.

In the Observer, our first paragraph tells us that about two thousand people “descended on the streets” to “express frustration with the federal government’s proposed anti-terror bill.”  So in this key sentence we are told a) there are a lot more people out there than the Sun was saying there were; b) they are frustrated with the federal government, not any party or person in particular; and c) that the bill is still a proposed bill, not something that is already law.

It seems like it’s a conspiracy.  But it really isn’t.  It’s the natural result of the corporate system of ownership; reporters making subtle changes to their pitched articles to make them palatable to their editors, who must then make them palatable to the company management, usually passing through several layers of bureaucratic stratification in between.  And ultimately, the paper is printed to please the boss, who likes things that benefit corporations just fine.

Most of Canada’s newspapers endorsed Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the last election despite plummeting popularity; the ones who didn’t supported mostly the Conservative Party with Harper’s resignation as a caveat.  People couldn’t understand it.  But Postmedia ordered all of their subsidiaries to endorse the Conservatives; which is actually a traditional owner’s prerogative.  In other words, every media company that has ever existed has a bias.  And they are expected to.

This is where publicly-owned media, run properly, can provide an alternative view and thus widen the lens we are given to look at the state of things; but even that has its problems.  Because the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is a Crown Corporation, meaning that the Canadian government is the primary shareholder, there are limits to the powers of the CEO and the Board of Directors.  As a result, a significant faction within the CBC, angered by the Conservative appointments and the reduced budget, supported – almost downright campaigned for – the Liberal Party and our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  But we need to understand their bias as well; the Liberal Party promised all kinds of things to the CBC as part of their campaign platform, including a lot more funding.  Thus, even in Canada’s nominally non-partisan public media company, every time we heard about the New Democratic Party or its leader Tom Mulcair, it was to deride and discredit their campaign promises and to make Mulcair look as foolish as possible, with photos seemingly selected for the purpose.  And that was regardless of which mainstream media company was reporting on the election.

But even publicly-owned broadcasting is not safe.  The CBC, long regarded as a public resource with a decidedly left-wing approach (and it used to be) was gutted completely by Stephen Harper in his last couple of years as Prime Minister.  He cut its funding, fired most of its executives, and appointed a whole bunch of his Conservative cronies to significant positions.  Justin Trudeau’s attempt to fix some of this has been actively stymied by tactics from these appointees that look a lot like crazy Republican stunts to me.  (Incidentally, when a government changes hands, requests for appointees to step down like this are a normal, expected part of the system; which of course, the current CBC isn’t telling us.)

Things like this have already been done to the BBC several years ago and are now firmly entrenched.

It’s an interesting point because I see the American media doing the exact same thing to Senator Bernie Sanders that the Canadian media did to the New Democrats, for the exact same reason; corporations hate social democracy.  Social democracies limit corporate powers and increase wages.  Social democracies believe in what’s best for all of the people, not just a select few.  I think it’s a safe bet that the mainstream media will never show us an unbiased view of policies that might put more limits on corporations; which is why so many people seem to think that Mr. Sanders’ “socialist” policies are “unrealistic.”  Even my parents.  The funny thing about this is that most of Sanders’ platform is the way Canada did things, from the 60s right up to the Harper administration, and it worked just fine.

There’s another concern with corporate media.  The media makes a lot of money on political campaign ads, as politicians try to make their messages heard; and also on election coverage, as corporations backing particular parties or candidates sponsor programs that feature those candidates.  And the more political tension they create, the more money they make; which is probably why every political campaign is portrayed as a horse race, even when it’s not.

How the Internet is Transforming Politics

In the early days of media, there were newsletters and newspapers.  Media was a lot less centralized and thus, people read what they wanted to read.  Since there were a couple of dozen New York papers, you just read the one you preferred; or maybe a handful, if you were really well informed.  When it came to politics, you read the papers that supported your political view; for instance, if you were a socialist, you read the socialist papers.

Slowly, larger papers began buying up the smaller papers, and so your options of what to read, and thus the viewpoint you were shown, gradually diminished.  Why did the New York Times become so respected?  Because everybody read it.

We have seen how that sort of centralization reduces the scope of the information lens so that we only hear what the corporate media wants us to hear.  But that’s changing.  There are alternative sources of media emerging; blogs and journals like ours, for example.  And the reason is – you guessed it – the internet.

Right now, political blogging is in its early growing stages.  We are graduating from a few random commentors to semi-professional small blogs and YouTube channels.  And the Millennials, having realized that the food that they’re being fed is (un)liberally flavoured with Corporatist propaganda and always tastes the same, have started seeking out those alternate sources.

Or so it would seem.  The truth is actually simpler than that, if I might cast a pall of cynicism on this ray of hope with an intention of helping us to make use of it in the most efficient possible way.

Millennials don’t watch TV anymore.  They don’t read newspapers.  Between their computers and their cell phones they go online for everything; their information, their entertainment, their social outlets.

So the fact that they’re discovering the alternate media is a cosmic accident, really.  And the only reason why the alternate sources are doing so well is that we’ve been here longer.  Fortunately the large media corporations were initially more interested in fighting or discrediting internet media than they were in using it. But that’s changing too.

Before you dismiss this as a fad, it’s clear that this has changed the way Millennials think.  They are perhaps the most literate generation that has ever existed.  Because they surf the web they know things that previous generations do not.  Because of Google Translate they can talk to people in other countries even if they don’t understand a word of the language.  And thus, it has never been so easy to find like-minded individuals and organize along ideological lines as opposed to geography.

More than that, most Millennials have probably experienced a situation in which they were humiliated on social media for not fact-checking a link or a meme.  Whether this or something else is the reason, Millennials who are politically aware check their facts.  They look up the definition of “social democracy” on Wikipedia.  They Google any statistics they are offered.  They use Snopes to confirm or denounce rumours and scandals.  You can’t just give them the facts you want them to hear, cherry-picked for your convenience.  They will double check.

As a result, we are beginning to see huge ideological divides between generations and it’s starting to make a difference.  Why did Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party win the Canadian federal election?  Because two significant demographics supported him almost unilaterally; First Nations Canadians, and young voters.

Note that these are both traditionally underrepresented groups in the political landscape.  But this time they overcame their reluctance to engage with a system so obviously stacked against them and came to the polls.  This, despite deliberate changes in election laws, such as gerrymandering electoral ridings and requiring proper picture ID as well as a voter registration card to vote – a tactic almost never done in Canadian history and obviously disadvantaging the young and the poor.  And as a result, our First Nations and our youth changed the course of Canadian history.

We are seeing this in American politics as well.  Would Bernie Sanders be doing so well against the likes of former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton if it weren’t for the massive support he’s receiving from America’s youth?  Millennials hear Sanders using the language of the Occupy Movement and his call to fight the 1%, and they are protesting the system with their ballots.  It is even starting to affect demographics that were believed to be unassailable, such as creating a generational divide in the black vote.

Will this factor change the course of this American election?  It already has.  Even among the Republican voters, nobody expected Donald Trump to do as well as he has.  In a way he’s the right wing equivalent of Bernie Sanders; he sounds like a rebel against the system.  He’s just going about it in a way that openly reveals the fascist heart of Corporatism.

Either way, this is likely the last U.S. Presidential campaign that will be so strongly influenced by the mainstream media.  It’s a whole new world out here.

But the battle isn’t over yet.  The halcyon days of net neutrality are already behind us, and there are ways in which large corporations are manipulating the internet to their advantage.  Also, the way in which we access the internet and social media corrals us into echo chambers which entirely lose touch with anyone who doesn’t share our views.  I will address these issues in my next article.

 

*I have chosen to use the gender-inclusive singular “they” as my default general pronoun in this article.